The Owl of Minerva

Volume 47, Issue 1/2, 2015/2016

David Ciavatta
Pages 69-108

Hegel on the Parallels between Action and the Ontology of Life

This paper shows that Hegel’s ontology of living beings provides us with indispensable conceptual resources for making sense of his account of the ontology of human action. For Hegel, living bodies are ontologically distinct in that their objective presence is thoroughly permeated by the self-reflexivity characteristic of subjectivity, and as such they cannot be adequately conceived in terms of categories (mechanistic, chemical, or generally causal categories) that are appropriate to inanimate, “subject-less” objects. It is argued that actions are similar in this regard, and like organic bodies they need to be conceived as self-realizing, self-articulating, dynamic wholes whose various material parts cannot be thought independently of their internal relations and their place in the whole. It is argued, further, that the categories Hegel appeals to in conceiving how organisms develop through stages are useful for making sense of how the objective shape of an action unfolds over time.